The holiday 2020 season may look different but that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate, including with your loved ones. This is the year for shopping online — which has already seen a huge increase and continues to be the safest way to buy things for yourself and others. Though the U.S. in particular is experiencing a new COVID-19 surge this holiday season, there are ways to create new and safe holiday traditions for 2020.
Ahead, we’ll share tips for how you and your loved ones can still find joy in the holidays during COVID, whether it’s setting up Zoom dance parties or mailing gifts to out-of-state friends. We also understand the incredible amount of stress you might be under, so we have some resources for that as well. While this time may be hard and one you won’t soon forget, the most important thing to remember is staying safe. These tips can provide some guidelines for safety, but in the end, you’ll need to come up with what will work best for you and your family.
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Getting prepared for the holidays
Whether you’re planning to celebrate with friends or family, it’s important to start planning for the holidays sooner rather than later, especially because this holiday season will undoubtedly be different. In a time of year that’s always stressful anyway, starting your planning early can help cut down on that stress. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Christmas with family this year might require a lot of extra preparation. For instance, if you want to celebrate with your family but are insisting they take a COVID test before coming into your home, you might want to give them a heads up now rather than on Dec. 23.
Shopping has shifted more online during the pandemic, especially because crowded stores are a thing of the past – even on Black Friday 2020. Here’s what you can do to prepare for holiday season shopping:
- Plan ahead: Planning in general is the first and best thing you should and can do with COVID-19 in mind. If you can order online and do curbside pickup, that’s a solid plan. If you can order online and have it delivered, that’s even better. This way you’re ahead of the game – and the superspreader holiday crowds.
- Practice social distancing in stores: This goes without saying, but if you find yourself in a store, keep social distancing in mind. Maybe shop early in the morning or right before a store closes, as those times are generally less busy. Keep a distance of six feet from everyone else in the store and be safe.
- Ask for a wish list: By asking your friends and family for a holiday wish list, you can save yourself time and stress. You won’t have to spend time exposed, wandering store aisles looking for the perfect gift, and you can watch for targeted online sales.
- Do it all at once: Try to consolidate your shopping list to one day or even one store. This way you’re minimizing your exposure to other people and can knock out all the shopping at once!
While you may be used to tedious Christmas or holiday travel, this year obviously requires extra caution. The most important thing to do is follow the CDC travel guidelines for social distancing while traveling, and always wear a face mask. The CDC has cautioned against traveling at all, so if you absolutely must travel, here are some tips for doing it safely:
- Consider modes of transportation: Some travel may be safer than others. If you have your own car, that’s your best bet. Public transportation can be dicey with the amount of people utilizing it. Between HEPA filters and mask mandates, airplanes are safer than you might think, but you still have two or more airports along your route that are fully enclosed and full of people who may not be wearing masks properly. Bear in mind that more and more airlines are now packed to capacity for their flights, meaning you can’t count on that empty seat between you and another passenger.
- Check travel restrictions: If you’re traveling out of state or even out of the country, make sure you’re fully aware of the travel restrictions. Each state has a plan in place so check to see if you’ll need to quarantine or get a COVID test. Build that timing into your travel plan.
- Consider the time: If you aren’t tied to a certain travel time, consider traveling during off-peak times. Flying in the middle of the week might allow you to be around fewer people. If you’re on public transportation, traveling during typical rush hour isn’t advised. Weekend travel is always more busy. Factor in the timing and consider changing plans.
- Cancel if need be: While the holidays may feel significant, the safety of you and your loved ones matters more. Don’t put yourself and others in danger if you don’t feel comfortable. Instead, think of ways to spend the holidays more safely and make a plan to see everyone once the pandemic isn’t in full swing.
- Be prepared for a change: You never know what might happen with COVID-19 or travel right now, so it’s important to be flexible. That also goes for yourself. If you’re feeling sick, don’t travel. If you do travel and end up exposed to someone who is sick, be prepared to get tested and possibly quarantine.
There is definitely more risk than usual this year with allowing guests into your home. There are also a lot of variables at play — who the guest is, where they’ve traveled from, where they’ve been lately, how at-risk they are, etc. Of course you don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable in this situation, but you owe everyone a courtesy of being fully aware of the whole scenario. Check in with your guest and get the full story from them so you know what’s going on, and disclose this to anyone else in your home. Aside from following CDC recommendations here are a few tips for preparing for guests:
- Remind them to quarantine: It’s only fair to you and your home for a guest to properly quarantine for 14 days before coming to your home. This obviously becomes a little murky if they have to fly or take public transportation to get to you, but quarantining is still advised, even if they can produce a negative COVID-19 test.
- Remind them to stay home if they’re sick: If your friend or loved one has been feeling at all sick lately, gently advise them to stay home. If they insist it isn’t COVID-19, but you’re still wary, you should feel empowered to insist they not visit.
- Ask them to get tested: It’s not outrageous to request your guests to prove they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 right before visiting you. Tell them it’s a requirement to enter your home. As testing center slots fill up fast these days, tell them about your testing requirements as soon as possible so they can plan to make an appointment in time.
- Encourage CDC best practices: Face masks and social distancing should still happen, even in your home, if you’ve welcomed someone in who hasn’t been in your quarantine bubble. Remind your guest to bring a mask along and wear it at all times. The CDC is recommending meals be served in open-air settings to limit spread during mealtimes when masks are off.
- Limit people: If you can, limit not only the number of people in your home, but the number of people touching things – especially food. If you’re sharing a meal together, try to keep the food preparations to one person (who is masked and gloved) and serve everyone rather than allowing everyone to serve themselves out of one dish.
- Reconsider allowing people to stay over: If a guest would normally stay over with you, you have to consider the safety of it. Can they stay at a hotel instead? If they must stay with you, try to keep them in one area with their own bathroom if possible. This just cuts down on the risk of exposure.
- Keep extra masks and sanitizer: If you’re having guests, make sure you’re stocked with hand sanitizer, masks, and disinfectant. Anyone who shows up to the door with no mask can use one of your spares and clean their hands before entering.
Just like everything else this holiday season, your religious celebrations will probably also change. Take care when considering how you celebrate. Some religious institutions may make the choice for you, opting to hold teleservices. For those not transitioning services to online this holiday season, consider the safety factor of being in an enclosed space with too many people. If you’re going to go, make sure to wear a face mask and social distance.
This might be the year, though, where you choose to change up your religious services and hold them outside with your religious community or do it via Zoom. It may not be what your religious leaders originally intended for the holy days, but everything is different this year. Whatever you choose to do, just remember to try to keep as safe as possible.
Non-traditional ways to celebrate the holidays
With the need for social distancing for holidays during COVID-19, it’s hard to picture how families and friends can get together to celebrate like they’re used to. Rather than focus on how much of a bummer that is, spin this year as an opportunity to find new traditions. Here are some ideas:
- Start a group chat: If you don’t already have a family group chat, now is the time to make one. Add your whole family into it so you can feel more connected. This is especially useful if you don’t talk to everyone that often. Same goes for your friend group: Check in with them frequently since you probably won’t get to spend as much time with them this holiday season. Make sure they’re doing okay.
- Virtually celebrate: You don’t have to save the virtual celebrations for an actual holiday, you can do these any time. Set up a video call to cook dinner together and then eat while on the call, call a friend and put on some music you can dance to together, mail gifts to everyone and then get on one big video call to open them together, etc. There are so many ways to be united over technology.
- Go outside: It’s safer to get together outdoors, so if you want to have a gathering, keep it to a few people and do it outside. Set up some cute decor wherever you decide to meet so it feels festive, put on your masks, and head outside together. This way you still get to enjoy one another’s company without risking anyone’s safety.
- Make playlists: The days of mixtapes might be gone, but playlists are eternal. Make a holiday season playlist to share with everyone, so you can all feel that sense of togetherness. Another option: Create custom playlists for all your loved ones.
- Drop off goodies: If your friends and family are nearby, bake them some cookies and drop them in their mailbox or on their front porch. It’s a sweet gesture of love, delivered in a safe way.
- Make plans for later: If your whole holiday season is a bust, start planning for a later winter holiday/ Christmas family gathering. You don’t even have to wait until next holiday season; start by making a plan for a few months from now and go from there. Having something to look forward to might make this feel better.
Special considerations during the holidays
Being extra cautious during the holidays is the best way to help yourself, your community, and everyone get back to normal sooner rather than later. While changing your holiday plans to suit a pandemic is certainly not what you had in mind for this year, there are plenty of ways to still celebrate with your loved ones. Some changes and adaptations will need to be made, especially with certain people in mind, like your older family members and younger children.
Grandparents/older loved ones
COVID-19 has been especially hard on older people, as they are at higher risk of getting infected by the virus. That means many of your older loved ones have surely been a bit lonesome while staying at home to keep safe. Here are some creative ways to spend time with them and brighten their holidays
- Use virtual tools: There’s no reason Grandma and Grandpa can’t do a Zoom call with you! Take a deep breath: It might take some patience to get everyone set up. Get all the equipment your parents or grandparents might need — this might mean gifting them with a computer or tablet or helping them set up the internet, but it’ll be worth it.
- Social distance: If you’re able, you can try having a socially distant get-together with your older loved ones. Perhap you can gather outside while far apart, at least so you’re in the presence of each other. Or you can visit them through a glass window or door. While it’s not ideal, it’s still a way to get to spend time with them in person.
- Send over a care package: If your older parents or grandparents live far away or are at an extreme risk of getting sick, consider sending them a care package. Include some of their favorite treats and something comforting. Don’t forget to include pictures of yourself, your family, your pets, and maybe some pictures from years past when you were all together. They may be at-risk and elderly, and the 2020 holiday season might not be what you hoped, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gift.
Children are pretty adaptable. This holiday season will be different from what they’re used to, but if you set the expectations in advance, they’ll hopefully breeze right through the holiday season. Here’s how you can prepare your kids for what to expect this year:
- Explain what’s going on: This will vary based on how old your children are, but explain it to them so they’ll understand. They’ve already been dealing with the pandemic for months, so hopefully they already have a grasp of what’s going on. Share with them that this holiday season will be different but maintain a positive attitude so they’ll hopefully feel excited about new traditions.
- Create new traditions: Once you’ve explained to your children that this holiday season will be different, set up some new traditions so it’s still enjoyable. Your kids are most likely home more than ever, so take the time to cook with them, make videos, craft decorations, and even online shop together.
- Stay in touch: Download apps and games to keep in contact with family and friends you can’t be with during the holidays. It might be something as simple as video chatting or something more involved like a game that you can play from afar. Any way to bring the family together while social distancing will help your children still feel a sense of normalcy.
For many people, the holiday season is all about giving back and helping the community. Though these are unprecedented times, there are still ways you can help your community, it might just look a little different from what you’ve done in past years. While we have some suggestions for ways to give back, keep in mind that your safety and the safety of your community is of the utmost importance, so if you don’t feel safe doing any of these, then maybe get creative and try something else. Here are some thought starters:
- DIY something: If you’re a crafty person, try making some face masks to donate. They’re pretty easy to put together and some patterns don’t even require any sewing skills. Whip up a few of these and donate them to people in need, healthcare workers, and your neighbors.
- Donate to charities: Donating to any charity will be welcome during the holidays, but if you want your donation to feel extra special, find a charity in your community that really needs the help right now. Maybe it’s a group that’s at higher risk because of the pandemic or maybe it’s an organization that’s been hit especially hard.
- Volunteer safely: If you feel comfortable with it, you can still volunteer in your community with food banks, shelters, and more. If you’re in an area with a higher COVID-19, this might not be an option for you, so it’s up to your discretion.
- Check in with friends and family: Sometimes the kindest thing you can do in a time like this is to simply check in with friends, family, and neighbors. Call someone you haven’t spoken to lately and wish them happy holidays and show them you’re thinking of them.
The holidays are stressful enough without a pandemic. Take the time to check in with yourself and try not to make things harder than they already are; COVID and depression can go hand-in-hand. You are important and your safety is important, and you need to remember that. This holiday season, no matter what, will be different. In fact, this holiday season may not look anything like what you’re used to. You’ll get through it, though. If you’re struggling, here are some tips to get through:
- Take time: You have to reboot and relax during the holiday season. It’s stressful anyway, but now is the time for self-care. Hopefully you have some time off work, so use that time to center yourself and remind yourself of the good things you have going on.
- Manage stress: This is easier said than done, but with some effort, it can happen. Try getting outside for fresh air and sunlight a little bit each day, and make an effort to cut back on negativity. It’s easy to focus on all the bad things but cutting out even a little bit of that can help. Also, talk to someone if you need to.
- Talk to your kids: If you’re a parent with stressed-out kids, it’s important to talk to them and validate their feelings. Let them know that it’s okay to feel scared or uncomfortable with everything going on. Remind them you’re there for them.
Disclaimer: we are not experts in this area and these are just suggestions for alternative ways to celebrate. You always run a risk of contracting COVID-19; taking these tips in consideration doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk.
Hedy Phillips is a freelance lifestyle writer based in New York. She writes on a variety of topics, including home decor trends and tips for traveling. Her bylines have appeared in a number of publications, including POPSUGAR, Hunker, Cosmopolitan, and more.